Tuesday, February 06, 2018

Treating the Treaty

Part of my job is to make a presentation about something confidently in simplistic language, in a way that should be as engaging as possible to a wide range of people. Usually these things happen at our school assemblies but can also be a celebration. And most usually these things happen with almost no preparation. Oh, what a luxury some preparation time would be! I think I do pretty well, though. 

Last Friday at an assembly, I spoke to students about the Waitangi Day for their awareness (basic information: don't come to school on Tuesday) and also for their education (basic information: New Zealand came about through the Treaty, with Maori chiefs and representatives of the Queen coming together to sign an agreement). I got into it forgetting we did actually have someone with Māori heritage on the team on site. She was leading the preparation for a group-wide event on the following Monday (yesterday) and had been intending to describe the Treaty's significance at that event. She didn't mention anything at the time but on Monday morning asked me to do the same at her event on account of my ability to simplify language. 

My presentation yesterday went something like this: "Welcome, everyone, to our Waitangi Day event. I would like to tell you about what Waitangi Day is and why it is special. I asked a student today if he knew what Waitangi Day is. He said that it is a Māori festival. Many people think this, but actually it isn't. It's a special day for all New Zealand. Waitangi is a place in New Zealand. Does anyone know where it is? (There were guesses.) It's up North, in a place called "The Bay of Islands", a very beautiful place. In 1840, something special happened there. A lot of Māori chiefs went there to meet with a man from England called Captain Hobson. They signed an agreement which made this land become New Zealand and part of the British Empire. It made Māori people British citizens and equal with them. It promised to protect their lands and treasures. Every year many people go to Waitangi to celebrate. Today, Jacinda Ardern went there to speak. Do you know who Jacinda Ardern is? (No-one knew, which was rather disappointing.) She's the Prime Minister, the leader of New Zealand. She's been in the news recently because she has had some good news: She's going to have a baby soon. So Waitangi Day is a special day to remember when Māori and the people from Britain became one people by coming together. Thank you again for coming. There are some fun activities for you to learn about the Māori side of New Zealand culture. I hope you enjoy it."

This isn't going to win any speech competitions, but it's very much fit-for-purpose: Lots of short sentences. Repetition. Simplistic language. Few idioms. Checking understanding of key reference terms. Even the gossip magazine Jacinda news, which I wouldn't usually raise, has a purpose with this kind of audience as it engages as well as informs. The audience also meant that I wasn't going to go into any of the complexities of chopping flagpoles, land wars, injustice, disease, protest, settlements and revitalisation. 

Being said rather extemporaneously, I'm still kicking myself for a few things, such as not starting with a Māori like "Kia ora, koutou!" and ending with "kia ora". But the number one kick was that I really didn't connect the Treaty to them, visitors and immigrants to NZ. Since I've been back I've heard the standard, multiculturalism on the basis of biculturalism many times, and it has always sounded a bit "forced" and not really explained well. I regard myself as being relatively advanced in my understanding of the implications of the Treaty. I also feel so many immigrants feel that the Treaty isn't relevant to them, or perhaps have a touch of the conservative white view of it as something for Māori people to get money and complain about things that don't really matter. And I wanted to think there was a simple sentence or two that might give a chance to understand its relevance.

I guess I would like to have said, and maybe will say on the coming Friday:
"Treaty is the foundation of New Zealand in the past, but also it's the foundation of New Zealand today: After setting up a fair and equal, respectful relationship between Māori people and people from Britain, all people from other countries who come to New Zealand to live also become a person under the Treaty. New Zealand welcomes people here and we do everything to make sure everyone can be treated fairly and with respect." 

I'm not sure if that would have got through but we need something to include all. I believe, even considering the historical injustices since the signing, New Zealanders should be proud of the Treaty and the sincerity since the 80s to try to realise the hope that was in it. The latter came about only after a protest movement. Even today the proportion of New Zealanders who have an understanding of our history and of the Treaty itself is not as high as it should be, for various reasons. I hope I can improve my communication of it both in words and actions.  

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